Argentina on the rack

FRFI 169 October / November 2002

8.4 million of Argentina’s 34 million population are now destitute. Malnutrition is widespread; children eat fried toads, or rats or pigeons. Everywhere desperation stalks the land. Workers in Rosario who haven’t eaten in days seize a crashed cattle truck and eat the load. Violence against property is rising and the shrinking middle class provides a boom market only for security systems, defence courses, guards and armoured vehicles.

The state continues to cut expenditure at the IMF’s behest. In the first half of this year, public spending was cut by $500 million. The fall in imports and rise in raw material and manufactured exports has created a balance of trade surplus. So far this year by starving the workers, Argentina has repaid $3.4 billion of the $9 billion IMF loans made in 2001.

The workers’ daily demonstrations and the growing platform of opposition around the ‘piqueteros’ has caused confusion and infighting among a ruling class which is utterly discredited. Churchmen attend each and every policy announcement. Economics minister (the sixth in a year) Lavagna admits that last year’s IMF loans financed the flight of capital from the country. Heads of private banks are being investigated and arrested. Former economics minister Cavallo has been arrested over illegal shipments of 6,500 tons of arms. His previous boss, ex-President Menem, is already planning to escape house arrest by standing in the coming elections.

Because of this tension, the IMF is now adjusting its pressure on Argentina. IMF chief Paul O’Neill arrived in Buenos Aires on 8 August to be met by major demonstrations and chants of ‘Yankee thief’ and ‘IMF out of Argentina – Yankees out of Latin America’. He provided no new money, but agreed to delay the repayment of $15 billion now due. The only way to end this deepening tragedy is for the workers to seize political control and impose their own solutions.

Alvaro Michaels